Over 75,000 overseas Filipinos returned to provinces — Lorenzana

Published July 8, 2020, 2:23 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

A total of 75,895 overseas Filipinos who were repatriated due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic have been assisted by the national government in returning to their home provinces.

This was reported by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to President Duterte during the latter’s public address aired past Wednesday midnight. Lorenzana is also the chairman of the National Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana

“So wala na po tayong mga backlog ngayon (We no longer have any backlog now),” Lorenzana said.

In May, the government was criticized for its handling of returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who had to endure several weeks of waiting for their health certificates while in isolation facilities before being allowed to go back to their homes.

Aside from OFWs, the government has also been attending to tourists, students, foreign nationals who have permanent residence in the Philippines and other Filipinos who got stranded abroad.

On the instructions of Duterte, Lorenzana has since implemented adjustments in the processing of returning overseas Filipinos to ensure that they would be released within three to five days upon arrival, provided that they test negative for COVID-19.

Lorenzana said the remaining concern presently is the pending repatriation of around 5,000 overseas Filipinos still waiting in Sabah, Malaysia to be transported back to their homeland.

The first batch of 395 returnees arrived in Zamboanga last Saturday.

“Karamihan po nito ay taga Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. So ito pong barko natin na pumupunta ng Sabah ay every two weeks ay maghahakot nitong mga — mga Pilipino na ‘to (Majority of them are from Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. So our ship goes to Sabah every two weeks to fetch the Filipinos there),” Lorenzana said.

Earlier, the Defense chief explained that they could not bring home all the 5,000 stranded Filipinos from Sabah to prevent the local government units’ healthcare facilities from being overwhelmed.

Lorenzana assured that the Filipinos who were being transported back home have already been tested in Malaysia before they were allowed to travel.

“Nakausap na po namin ‘yung mga provincial government na tanggapin nila itong mga taong ito dahil sila po ay COVID-free na. Bago sila umalis sa Malaysia ay na-testing na sila doon (at) binayaran na ng DOH ang kanilang testing doon (We already talked to the provincial governments to accept these people because they are already COVID-free. Before they left Malaysia, they were tested and the DOH [Department of Health] paid for their tests),” he said.